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Luxury On The Volga
John Harrison

The Moscow hinterlands go on for ages in all directions. Getting away for the weekend must be easy.  Just pick up the phone and book any one of hundreds of different hotels, motels, resorts, like anywhere else in the world.  Wrong.  There arent that many places available where foreigners can stay and get a reasonable level of service for a reasonable amount of money.  I reckon there are somewhere between 40 or 50 in the whole Moscow Oblast. 

One reason for this is dacha culture.  If there is one thing that Russians love, its their dachas.  There has never been a great incentive to construct hotels around Moscow when many wealthy Russians have their own personal mini-hotels, built at great expense. Almost everybody seems to have access to a place to stay. However, that is beginning to change.  Now there is a need for somewhere to stay whilst the million dollar dacha is being built. Many want to have a break from family bliss, and there is an increasing amount of corporate trade. You cant say that there is an explosion of the out-of-town mini-hotel construction, but bearing in mind there was virtually nothing available even 5 years ago, apart from old Soviet rest homes and sanatoriums some of which were, and remain to be, very nice this segment of the hotel industry is experiencing real growth.

All this is good for us foreigners.  We are no longer an important market in general terms, but as competition amongst Russian establishments hots up (if competition is the right word), some places are starting to make moves to attract foreigners.  This is good news for us, because some are real gems.

One such secret is the hotel Dafna, in Sverdlova village, 48 kilometres from Tver, and 115 kilometers from Moscow.  This is a 14-room hotel, 4-star hotel which accommodates 30 guests.  The hotel is well located, situated on the banks of the Volga, in a charming village dominated by a 200-and-something year-old Russian church the Khram Krestobodvizhenie Gospodnix, where you can even get married, or baptize your child.  The church itself is surprisingly large, lofty, and beautiful, with original murals flaking off in an authentic way.  Like all churches here, it has a feeling of soulful antiquity, with hundreds of saints peering down from above; from beyond the altar and our sins.  About 140 wooden Russian houses surround the church.  There are a few New Russian monstrosities around, but no dacha towers.   If you squint your eyes, particularly in the winter when the snow covers up a lot of modern civilization, it doesnt take a lot of imagination to find yourself back in Tsarist Russia. 

The service befits a boyar.  It is slightly disconcerting to be met at the door by smiling porters 115 kilometers from Moscow, especially when you arrive at 2 am in the morning, then to be ushered politely up to your room past a welcoming fire and cozy lounge.  This is something new, for me at least. The rooms are of good quality; the only thing I could find at fault was the absence of a mini-fridge in our room.  The owner, Vyacheslav Fedorovich Orekhov, spent two years and a great deal of money reconstructing this old Soviet rest home, a black and white photograph of the old building almost unrecognizable hangs on the wall by the stairs. The mostly European style food in the restaurant, which has large windows with expansive views of the Volga, is good. Prices are typical for a medium-priced Moscow restaurant, with steak, for example at 400 rubles, various fish dishes from 300 600 rubles.  The impeccable service once again made me feel disorientated; this is an island of luxury.

Room prices at the hotel range are $100-$140 per person per night if youre on your own, or $128-$160 per night for a double room.  Prices in the summer months increase by about 15% across the board.  This place gets busy, like all decent hotels in Russia, so you need to book up a week or two in advance for a weekend, weekdays are quieter.

There is no limiting Vyacheslavs hospitality ambitions. He enthusiastically whisked me off on a snowmobile at a mere 60 kilometers an hour (terrifying) across the wide wide Volga to a fishing lodge that he and his partners have invested in.  Here accommodation consists of simple rooms with a shared shower, but you can hire a room for 750 rubles a night, and the whole hunting lodge for about 6000 rubles; which sleeps 8.  The forest all around is dark, quiet, endless; a little awe inspiring. It is full of game, which you can hunt down and kill be that your desire; during the October-December hunting season.

There are decent stables nearby with healthy (unlike the beaten-up horses at some Moscow stables) horses which can be hired at good rates. Fishing, swimming et all are available in the warm weather.  Basically, this is place to get away from it all, with a dab of luxury. 

Hotel Dafna 
(495) 795 5530, 930 3689;

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